On the Colour Couch with YesColours’ Emma Bestley

little book of colour on the colour couch with yescolours emma bestley

As Emma says, we have Instagram to thank for connecting us. I remember following Emma through her interiors moveovermagnolia IG account. She bought my book as soon as it was released, and starting up YesColours with her business partner John Stubbs, we’ve had lots of colour conversations and wonderful collaborations.

I was fascinated that Emma experiences the rare phenomena that is synaesthesia, which only 1-4% of the population experiences. So I thought you would love to read about her experience with colour synaesthesia. Over to Emma…

What is your earliest colour memory?

Because I have Colour Synaesthesia (which means I see colours and emotions in words and numbers), even from the age of 4, I remember my school friends’ names having a colour. My friend Marc was a tomato red, Samuel was an egg yolk yellow.

My first teacher was such a grey, probably because it was one of my least favourite colours and she expressed no emotion, as if colour had been sucked out of her!

Apart from my brain condition – my childhood home, my surroundings were so colourful and the first combo I fell in love with was when my mum tiled our kitchen a pastel green and painted the walls a bluish lilac. I was in love. Hooked in fact.

What does colour mean to you?

For me – colour is a form of expression. It’s everything, not just because I have synaesthesia, but apparently as soon as I could grip a crayon, I drew and painted. So from the age of 2, I was art obsessed and therefore colour obsessed.

Colour mixing had infinite possibilities and I could create anything I wanted. That’s an incredible freeing feeling as a kid and even more so as a grown up!

To this day, buying paint for creating art or painting my walls is one of my favourite pastimes.

Do you have a favourite colour or a colour that you find yourself constantly drawn to? And why?

I’ve been drawn to Green ever since I was a child. Each of us received a tin of Crayola crayons in our school lockers at Infant school and I looked after those crayons as if they were helpless puppies.

There was a yellow green and a forest green crayon; my cherished duo. I loved drawing nature so of course, those greens came in handy big time. I love Emerald, Jade, Forest, Mint, Pistachio, and Olive. I leave no green hue out!

But I’m partial to a pastel pistachio/Vespa green the most – probably linking back to my parents kitchen tiles and the fact the hallway was painted in a pale green too.

I had a ridiculously happy childhood, so these colour associations have a positive impact on that core memory.

Do you have a colour that you least like? And why?

I feel bad saying that I don’t like a specific colour but I would have to say brown. I don’t wear brown. My hair is auburn brown and I have 5000 freckles so there’s brown in my life but apart from vintage teak furniture, brown isn’t a common colour used in our home.

I think I’ve always liked to express myself with colour in terms of make up, my clothes and our home and brown doesn’t express a very positive emotion to me. 

If I really think about it in recent times – the honest fact would be that it definitely reminds me of nappies and when the kids were young and not potty trained. Fun times…a lot of brown!

What do you love most about working with colour?

It’s universal. It’s everywhere and for most of us – we are given unlimited opportunities to use colour in our lives.

Creating the colour palette for YesColours was the most fulfilling experience in my career. To choose colours not based on trends but inspired by the world around us was such an exciting exploration.

We looked at nature, the places we want to visit, the places we have been, the clothes we wear, historical and cultural stories on colour, music, movies and of course – food.

Colour is a very personal experience and more often than not, we emotionally respond to colour, like you would a piece of art and whether that’s come from a core memory, or an experience you’ve had in the past, colour is part of us.

What do you think your life would be like without colour?

I would be miserable. Apart from the fact, I would never be able to wear my MAC ‘Candy Yum Yum’ bright pink lipstick or put on my cosy Lilac coat which brightens up a British grey drizzly day – the thought of never seeing the colours of the sky again or fields of greens and yellow in the countryside.

Seasons wouldn’t make sense anymore. Colour gives me happiness, it can calm me down, it can rejuvenate me. Colour is powerful and life without it would be boring.

What’s your favourite colour story?

It was a recent one from one of my daughter’s books which totally fascinates them about Scheele’s Green. A story of fashion, science and death. Scheele’s Green was similar to emerald green. In 1864, an Empress wore a green gown to a social event in Paris. It ended up in the headlines and became known as Paris Green for the social elite. A pigment was created by chemists by mixing copper and arsenic.

The result was a dye which was longer lasting and brighter than other green in the market. But what it did mean was the long term effects of being in close contact with arsenic leading to many health complications including headaches, ulcerations and for many – death.

The Paris Green trend hit Victorian London. It found its way into sweets, toys, wallpaper and clothing. It took many years for Britain to ban this pigment. It was partly thanks to Queen Victoria who heard a story from a visiting dignitary who said he was sick overnight due to the green wallpaper surrounding his bed.

The Queen immediately ordered the removal of all such wallpaper from her palace and word spread and households throughout the UK followed suit. Phew.

Were you ever afraid or wary of colour? And what did you do to overcome this?

I used to be wary of blue, to wear as clothing and in the home. I loved it when painting landscapes but felt that it was too ‘cold’ to wear or surround myself with.

There’s millions of colours in the world, so I just needed to experiment a little more. I know I still wouldn’t wear pale blue as it seems to suck the life out of me but now I would happily wear a bright cobalt blue. It energises me.

In our home, we can now enjoy dark inky blues to feel cosy and safe but again – a pale blue doesn’t float my boat. As we get older, most of us become wiser and I feel that’s the same for colour. My colour wisdom improves every year but there’s always more to learn.

Do you have a favourite colour place that you visit (or have visited)?

I don’t even have to think about this one – it’s the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. Owned by the French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923. It’s now fondly known as the YSL garden because Yves Saint Laurent bought it in the 80’s.

When he died, his ashes were scattered in the gardens. As soon as I saw it, I cried. The vibrant colours, particularly the blue amongst the lush green palms? Heaven. A little Oasis of Colour for the eyes, my eyes at least.

For anyone afraid of colour what would your number 1 piece of advice be?

To me – this means one is afraid to make a new colour choice. This is easily remedied. Neutrals and greys are a safe zone and there’s nothing wrong with that so of course it can be overwhelming if you suddenly want to try and introduce other colours in the mix.

Nobody wants to make a mistake and then think they have to live with it. I would say think about something you love to look at, a visual/memory which makes you smile, whether that’s a place you have been, a place you are dying to visit or a piece of art.

If you are drawn to that palette or certain tone of colour, it’s more than likely, you will be able to start playing around with that colour even if it’s a cushion, a vase, some flowers or a lipstick.

Nobody gets it right the first time. Nobody. We all experiment and get a feel for something before we can be content with it.

Isn’t the world of Synaesthesia just fascinating. Given how rare it is, how lucky are we to hear Emma’s experience with colour synaesthesia. I’ve been to Morocco a couple of times but never made it to the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. That’s on my bucket list.

If you would like to discover more about Emma, head over to her Instagram @moveovermagnolia or @yes.colours.

And if you would like to watch the video where Emma, John and I discuss using colour as a form of self expression, you can watch that over here.

Wishing you a colourful day,

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